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  1. 5 Holiday Giving Options Offering Healthful Returns

    The Holiday Season is a time for giving, and that includes supporting causes and organizations that make our communities stronger.

    It’s in this spirit that we share some holiday giving suggestions that offer a more healthful return than simply writing a check.

    After all, as physical therapists, it’s our goal to improve lives and the community by helping people move better and live healthier, more active lives.

    It’s based on this that we thought to offer some ideas for how people can give back to their communities while, at the same time, also benefiting from various levels of physical activity.

    Increase Joy, Reduce Stress

    Such an approach to holiday giving isn’t just about contributing to one’s 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    The holidays are a pretty stressful time for a lot of people, and exercise is a proven way to reduce stress and anxiety while improving overall happiness. It just so happens giving and volunteering provide similar health benefits.

    Put them together, and you’re likely to experience a more joyful and relaxing holiday season.”

    With this in mind, consider following five ways to give back and be fit this Holiday Season:

    Volunteer ‘Sweat Equity’

    There are lots of ways to volunteer during the holidays, and many involve various levels of physical activity.

    Collecting gift donations for a local children’s charity, for instance, or helping sort and deliver food donations for a food pantry, requires time, muscle and (if it’s a charitable year) good endurance.

    Do a Charity Fun Run

    Running continues to grow in popularity, and so do charity fun runs – even during the colder months of the year.

    Registration for these runs typically goes to local charities, and some allow for added individual or team fundraising so you can maximize your donation.

    Check your local event calendar for options.

    Lend a Neighbor a Hand

    Most of us have neighbors who could use a helping hand on occasion, be they elderly, disabled, alone, or short on time or money.

    The holidays are a great time to check in with them and see if they could use some help with physical tasks like yard work, clearing the driveway of snow or ice, putting out Christmas decorations, or even childcare.

    Walk Your Best Friends

    Are animals your passion? Perfect! Animals need exercise just like people do, and most animal shelters welcome volunteers eager to play with and walk the dogs and cats.

    Not only is walking great exercise for both people and pets, but spending time with animals can also lower stress and blood pressure.

    Arm Your Smartphone

    If the interpersonal aspect of volunteering doesn’t quite fit your personality, you still have options.

    Some smartphone apps exist (Charity Miles is the most prominent) that allow you to convert workout miles and/or daily activity into donations to reputable nonprofit organizations.

    Of course, if one or more of these ideas sound appealing, but discomfort, pain or a movement limitation is holding you back from giving back in this way, come by the physical therapy clinic.

    At our clinic, we can assess the issue and put you on a path toward being more active – both physically and as a contributor to your community.

  2. Can Exercise Ward Off Cold and Flu Symptoms?

    As cold and flu season approaches, so does the season of illness prevention.

    From getting flu shots to adding a little extra Vitamin C to our diets, prevention often becomes a focus for those concerned with getting sick, missing work and/or school, and optimizing the joy of their upcoming Holiday Seasons.

    It’s based on this mindset that medical professionals such as physical therapists are most likely to get some version of the question: Can exercise boost my immune system?

    The answer, however, is broader than the question itself.

    Boosting the Immune System

    On a more general level, healthy living is the true key to building and maintaining a strong immune system. Habits like eating right, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, and reducing stress account for some long-lasting, immune-boosting benefits.

    But, regular exercise definitely plays an important role, as well.

    Some studies have shown, for instance, that exercise on its own can play a role in reducing the length and intensity of colds and flu. Such research often points to many of the benefits inherent in regular fitness routines as factors that also help ward off illness:

    • Weight management
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Reduction in stress
    • Improved circulation

    Other studies have concluded that regular, mild-intensity exercise can help reduce illness while prolonged, high-intensity exercise can have the opposite effect by making one more susceptible to catching a bug.

    Based on this, if you feel you may be catching something – a cold, a flu or whatever may be going around – the best initial advice is to pull back on the length and intensity of their exercise routine just to be on the safe side.

    Keep getting your exercise, but also take greater care to make sure you’re staying hydrated, eating well and giving your body time to recover.

    If you do get sick?

    According to advice from the Mayo Clinic, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t continue to exercise. They offer the following two rules of thumb:

    The Neck Rule

    If you catch a cold and find that all the symptoms are concentrated above the neck (i.e., nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and/or a minor sore throat), it’s typically OK to exercise. Simply reduce your intensity. Instead of going for a jog, for instance, opt to go for a walk.

    In contrast, if you find that you’re experiencing symptoms below the neck – things like a congested chest, a hacking cough or an upset stomach – it’s best to not exercise at all.

    The Fever Rule

    Also, if you have a fever or are experience muscle aches and fatigue throughout your body, take a break from exercising. Instead, get some rest, stay hydrated and, if things don’t improve over a couple of days, visit your doctor.

    The bottom line: it’s always your best bet to listen to your body, and don’t overdo it. Pushing your body too hard when it’s fighting an illness could potentially do you more harm than good.

  3. I Stand Corrected! 5 Common Fitness Myths

    When only one in three adults get the recommended amount of physical activity their bodies need each week (according to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition), it’s difficult for we as physical therapists to find fault when an individual is making an effort to exercise … even if the effort’s slightly misguided.

    But since October is National Physical Therapy Month, and physical therapists are the medical community’s preeminent experts in movement, fitness, and musculoskeletal function and injury, we view this month as an opportune time to correct what we see as a few common misconceptions about exercise.

    Good Intentions

    Some of the more common personal goals people make revolve around health, fitness and weight loss, and we as physical therapists are dedicated to supporting these goals through a number of individualized services.

    In doing so, though, it’s important to us that people work toward these objectives in a safe and healthful manner – one which most efficiently moves them toward their goals.

    In this spirit, here are five exercise myths we finds to be common among many fitness-minded people:

    1) Stretching Before Exercise Prevents Injuries

    Perhaps surprisingly, research suggests there’s no connection between pre-workout stretching and injury prevention. In addition, stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.

    So instead, warm up dynamically before a workout by walking, jogging, doing lunges and leg/arm swings, etc.

    Stretching is still incredibly important, but do your stretches independent of your workouts.

    2) The More, the Better

    For the more goal-driven crowd, a pedal-to-the-metal approach to fitness can seem the quickest and most efficient way to better health.

    However, it’s critical workout intensity and length remain in line with one’s current fitness levels and limits.

    It’s also important to schedule recovery, or off-days, into your routine. Failing to do so can increase your injury risk as well as the risk of burnout.

    3) Cross Training is for Athletes Only

    Cross training is simply working activities into your regimen that differ from your preferred or usual activities. The goal is to improve your overall fitness level by challenging your cardio, strength and balance in different ways.

    Such “training diversification” will help maximize your workout potential while helping to prevent overuse injuries and burnout, so everyone should do it.

    4) Aerobic is More Important Than Strength Training

    Whether it’s because some are concerned about too much “bulking up” or they feel spending their limited time on ellipticals and stationary bikes will maximize their efforts, cardio is often a focus for those seeking to improve health.

    It shouldn’t be the only focus, however.

    Muscular fitness is just as important as cardio for such issues as weight management, bone health, injury prevention, and so on.

    5) If Sore or Injured, Rest is Always Best

    Wrong again.

    While rest has a long history as a go-to response to soreness, pain and injury, research now suggests movement and “active recovery” can actually speed up the healing process, specifically when guided by a physical therapist.

    If pain or injury is keeping you from getting a full dose of exercise and physical activity each week, visit a physical therapist.

    Highly educated and licensed health care professionals, physical therapists like those at our clinic are experts at helping people reduce pain, improve/restore mobility, and ultimately lead more healthful, active lives.

  4. 5 Exercises for Improving Balance & Preventing Falls

    When we’re young, falls are treated as teaching opportunities. “Get back on your feet, brush yourself off and keep moving toward your goals,” we were told.

    But as we age, falls take on a much greater significance. When someone of advanced age falls, they tend to suffer greater distress to their health as well as their pocketbooks.

    In other words, a fall can greatly impact a senior’s ability to live an active, healthful and independent life. In fact, where older adults are concerned, a fall can have a spiraling effect on their overall quality of life during years typically set aside for much-deserved rest, relaxation and fun.

    Unfortunately, though, falls are an epidemic among seniors in the U.S.

    The Fall Epidemic

    According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated for a fall in a U.S. emergency room every 11 seconds, making it the most common cause for nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among this group.

    In addition, the average health care cost for each of these falls is approximately $35,000 per patient.

    Older bodies are simply more susceptible to serious injury when falls occur. And, while there are some things seniors can do to keep their bonds strong and flexible enough to better absorb a fall, the best course of action is to just prevent falls from happening to begin with.

    This starts with improving balance.

    Balance Exercises

    Like strength and cardiovascular conditioning, balance is something that can and should be improved through regular exercise. With this in mind, try these five exercises to help improve your balance:

    Standing March: As the name says, march in place for up to 30 seconds, slowly raising and lowering your knees throughout. Vary the surface on which you march (i.e., hard floor to the back yard) for more of a challenge.

    Heel to Toe: Starting with both heels touching the wall, put one foot in front of the other so the heel touches the toes of the opposite foot. Repeat with the other foot, as if you’re walking a chalk line. Go for 20 steps each round.

    Weight Shifts: With your feet hip-width apart, shift your weight to one side, lifting your other foot off the floor just a few inches. Hold this pose for up to 30 seconds, then shift and hold on the other leg. Increase reps per your ability.

    Single-Leg Balance: Starting with the same stance as above, now left one leg from the floor, banding it back at the knee. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then do the same with the other leg. Increase reps as your balance improves.

    Tai Chi/Yoga: If you feel your balance is strong and you’ve mastered the above exercises, trying a group Tai Chi or yoga class. Such classes are ideal for exercising balance by strengthening your body and core.

    Safety & Physical Therapy

    If you’re new to any of these exercises, help balance yourself initially by leaning on a table, chair back or wall for safety’s sake. Also, make these simple exercises part of your daily routine.

    And, if you’re a senior or soon-to-be senior who doesn’t currently exercise regularly, it’s smart to start any new fall-prevention effort by first getting a balance assessment from a physical therapist.

    Through a balance assessment, a physical therapist can determine your level of functional balance while pinpointing areas of concern that can be addressed through an individualized fall-prevention regimen.

  5. To Stretch or Not to Stretch? Tips for Optimizing Flexibility

    Many have grown up with the understanding that, whenever you’re about to work out, compete or otherwise push your body, it’s important to stretch immediately before the activity in order to prevent injury and perform your best.

    Yet, despite these long-held beliefs – and perhaps surprisingly – there’s little evidence to support this theory.

    Today’s evidence suggests that there’s no connection between injury prevention and stretching – static, or reach-and-hold-type stretching – before a workout. Performance-wise, there’s also no consistent connection, with some studies even suggestions that stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.

    For example, research released by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2011 found that the vertical jump heights of young and middle-aged men actually declined when participants stretched beforehand. In contrast, the same study found heights increased after warming up dynamically, or using dynamic stretching.

    Dynamic stretches can best be described as a lower-intensity version of the exercises and movements you plan to perform during your activities or while you’re competing.

    A light jog, some leg swings, lunges, high-knees, arm and shoulder rotations … all these movements can be part of a dynamic stretching routine, depending on the activity you’re about to do.

    Such dynamic warm-ups help you break a sweat, sure, but it does so much more. It ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, promoting optimal flexibility and efficiency.

    Dynamic stretching, however, can only optimize your current level of flexibility. Static stretching is still vital in maintaining and improving your body’s level of overall flexibility … just not right before an activity.

    So, when’s the ideal time to maintain and improve flexibility through static stretching? Consider the following guidelines:

    Stretch Daily: Just as you should try to get a certain amount of exercise in each day – both cardio and strength training – it’s also important to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to daily static stretching. Typical static stretches are held for anywhere between 15 to 60 seconds at a time, with each movement repeated two or more times.

    Experts suggest setting time aside for stretching either first-thing in the morning or just before going to bed.

    Stretch During Cool-Downs: Cooling down after an activity helps the body transition from a higher intensity to a resting or near-resting state. While slowed-down exercises (similar to those during dynamic warm-ups) may be included as part of a cool-down, this is also a great time for static stretching.

    As consistent tightness in the muscles and joints can put one more at risk of pain and injury, those who regularly exercise or compete have an annual physical therapy exam. During a PT exam, weaknesses in flexibility, strength and movement can be identified and properly addressed before they manifest into injuries.

  6. 6 Common Back Pain Myths, Debunked

    Despite being one of the top causes of disability in the U.S., affecting around eight in 10 people in their lifetimes, back pain is an ailment often misunderstood by those affected.

    Such misconceptions can cause those suffering from back pain to seek solutions, potential treatment paths, and even lifestyle alterations that aren’t necessarily in their best interests.

    Back pain can be as frustrating as it is debilitating, especially if past preventative measures and treatments haven’t been helpful. And, this can lead a person down paths that don’t result in the best and most necessary evidence-based treatments.

    These paths can sometimes lead to treatments that are more expensive or personally invasive – and perhaps even unnecessary – such as MRIs and surgery.

    MRIs, shots, surgery, medication, etc., should mostly be considered last resort-type solutions. The fact is, most back pain issues will go away on their own in a few days. And even when they don’t, most remaining cases can be successfully resolved through safer, more affordable and more effective treatment approaches.

    To help health care consumers make better decisions when considering solutions to their back-pain issues, we’d like to shed some light on the following common back pain myths:

    1. Bed Rest Helps with Relief & Healing: Once a common treatment for back pain, research strongly suggests long-term rest can slow recovery and even make your back pain worse. Instead, treatment involving movement and exercise (i.e., stretches, walking, swimming, etc.) often works better to hasten healing and provide relief.

    2. The Problem’s in My Spine: Back pain can be caused by a wide array of issues throughout the body as well as one’s environment. It can be a response to the way you move when you exercise, how you sit at work, the shoes you wear, the mattress on which you sleep, or simply your body compensating for movement limitations and weaknesses. Back pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “bad back,” or are predisposed to back pain.

    3. I Just Need an ‘Adjustment’: Those accustomed to visiting a chiropractor for back pain issues often claim to find relief from having their spine adjusted, or “cracked.” While this process can release endorphins that offer some temporary relief, only about 10 percent of all back pain cases can actually benefit from spine mobilization. Exercise is often more effective, as is determining and treating the pain’s source. (See item No. 2.)

    4. Medication’s the Answer: A popular quick fix, medication should never be viewed as a long-term solution to chronic back pain issues. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help get you through in the short term, but many prescription pain meds can be dangerous, addictive, and even make the pain worse in some instances.

    5. I’ll Probably Need Surgery: Of people experiencing low-back pain, only about 4 to 8 percent of their conditions can and should be successfully treated with surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even 90-plus percent of herniated discs often get better on their own through a combination of rest and physical therapy.

    6. I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist: Multiple studies have concluded that physical therapy is one of the safest and most effective ways to both treat and prevent back pain. And in nearly every state, patients can access physical therapy services without first getting a physician’s prescription.